Emily Jane White has a stunning, beautiful, smoky voice that could stop traffic. Even if the music was underwhelming (which it absolutely is not) her voice could carry the project through but happily she’s allied to some of the most emotive, understated, subtle music put on record. In short this is a stunning work.
Opening with the sublime ‘never dead’ which houses gentle slide guitar, a gentle drum beat and throbbing bass along with that amazing voice, it’s as perfect an album opener as you could hope for. ‘Stairs’ is equally awe-inspiring; a gentle, lilting number set to picked acoustic guitar and the steady beat of the bass drum, it has a bewitching melody which is bought out by the well-arranged violin backdrop and thoughtful lyrics. The album’s title track, ‘Victorian America’ is the most overtly poppy sounding song here – with a distressingly memorable vocal line that glues itself to your brain for days despite the palpable sense of loss that lingers over the song. ‘The baby’ continues in a more subtle vein, with a lone electric guitar stabbing away amidst the darkness recalling elements of Nick Cave and P J Harvey at their most stripped down and elemental. Indeed the Nick Cave comparisons don’t end there because Emily is a wonderful story-teller whose lyrics are both intelligent and enthralling – a rare trait in the music industry and something to treasure when you find it.
Taking pride of place as the most stunning song on the album is ‘Frozen heart’ a piano led, gothic march that is the song Amy Lee has always wanted to make and never come close. Sounding vulnerable yet courageous, Emily provides a show-stopping vocal and you’d have to be made of stone not to be affected by this remarkable piece of music. Changing the pace after the almost unbearable atmosphere of the previous track is the countrified ‘the country life’ with lap-steel guitar offering up a mournful wail behind the gentle acoustic strum. ‘Liza’ is a darker song, but quietly beautiful and as it opens up in the second half with ever-faster drums and orchestration it really sets the pulse racing. At seven minutes, ‘The ravens’ is a lengthy, literary effort which sees Emily lay herself bare over the most skeletal of music backdrops and you can only admire her confidence and the fact that her ability more than justifies it.
‘Red serpent ‘ is an interesting, tremolo laden number that recalls 90s alternative band Belly at their peak and which is rather less bleak than ‘the ravens’ while ‘red dress’ returns to a comfortable Nick Cave-esque line of pulsing guitar and dark-hearted narration. Musically ambitious it’s another highlight of an album that continuously surprises and pushes the envelope of what an artist can do. ‘A shot rang out’ returns to the more simplified acoustic formula of the early tracks, letting Emily’s voice do the work while the music takes a back seat for a moment. The opposite is true on final track ‘ghost of a horse’ which sees all the orchestral elements come together for this last, wondrous moment.
Victorian America’ is simply a perfect record. Harnessing elements of folk, gospel, blues, gothic and even country music together to create a stunning backdrop for Emily’s beautiful voice, there is so much emotion written into the music that you can’t help but be swayed by it. An accomplished sophomore outing from an artist who is truly deserving of that term this is a wonderful work of art. Sublime on every level, it’ll be fascinating to see what she does next.